Opportunity Abounds for Downs Student in Seemingly Hopeless Situation
by Whitney Williams Posted on Tuesday, May 05, 2015
A story of anger, heartbreak, determination, sacrificial love, and restoration Angry. That’s how Pancho felt toward his mother. She had taken away his favorite thing in the entire world: school. It was like she was stealing the sun from his sky. He just didn’t understand.Heartbroken. That’s how Amelia felt when she had to choose between her 22-year-old son attending the Guatemalan Association of Down Syndrome and her family of six eating. How could she explain to Pancho that her daily babysitting job was no longer generating enough income to meet their family’s most basic needs, much less his school expenses and the bus fare he needed to get there every day? Amelia’s husband left her and the kids years ago, so she couldn’t rely on him (aside from the measly amount he was court-ordered to give them each month). Still, she knew she was not alone. God would provide, she thought, but how?Determined. That’s how Christi Ucherek, one of our long-term missionaries in Guatemala, felt when the school told her Pancho hadn’t been there in weeks because his family was in financial crisis. She just couldn’t let Pancho slip through the cracks. Without the Down Syndrome School, he would literally be sitting at home all day, doing nothing, with little chance to ever find a job or live on his own.Before setting out to buy groceries for the family, Christi wrote the Orphan Outreach team to see if they could help her find Pancho a sponsor who would also pay for his bus fare to and from school, which added up to about $36 a month on top of the $36 monthly sponsorship gift. She also posted a plea on Facebook. Pancho was fully sponsored within ten minutes.Christi went to see him and meet his mother at the school shortly thereafter to fully explain the sponsorship situation—Orphan Outreach would send the sponsor’s money directly to the school, as always, to cover Pancho’s educational expenses, along with money for his bus fare, which would be given to Pancho on a weekly basis.“Pancho was beaming with excitement,” Christi said. “His mother told me that before they left he grabbed her face with both hands and said ‘I love you, mommy, and thank you for sending me to school again!’"Christi could see the weight lifting off of Amelia as she explained everything to her.“We had a beautiful time of prayer together with lots of big hugs! She is such a genuine woman that is doing all she can to care for her family—a woman with so little, carrying such a heavy burden, but the joy of the Lord is so clear in her life!”Pancho, along with his mother and four sisters, actively attend a local church each week, and he will be the first to tell you how much he loves Jesus. This love is only bolstered during his time at the Downs school, which was started by Alfredo and Irene Salazar, a loving, Christian couple who, after having a child with Downs, was frustrated by the country’s lack of educational offerings for persons with the condition and decided to do something about it.The school, which meets in the back of Irene’s father’s church building, now provides education for 42 children with Down syndrome, most of who come from extremely poor families. In addition, it offers therapy to babies born with Downs and training to their parents, who many times are surprised by the condition at birth because of the country’s underdeveloped screening processes and medical care.“It is so crucial that these precious children receive early stimulation and continue to attend school,” Christi said. “There are several children at the school that started with therapy as babies and it is so obvious which children they are because they are very advanced, understand who Jesus is, and are leaders in their classrooms.”Even if the families in this program could afford the school supplies and uniforms for their special needs child to attend a free public school, which is unlikely, the public schools are not equipped nor trained to teach those with learning disabilities and developmental delays.“It is so crucial that we find more sponsors for children like Pancho, as these children need to be in school, need to be cared for by trained teachers and therapists, and need to hear about Jesus,” Christi said.Click here to find out more about sponsoring a child at the Guatemalan Association of Down Syndrome.*Pancho’s given name is actually Francisco Isaac Espinoza Echeverria, but he prefers to be called Pancho.